The small town in the Murrumbidgee River has always been well placed to become a folklore hub. Established from around 1830, it was a natural meeting and stopping place for travelers of all kinds, including bullockies, overlanders, riverboaters, hawkers and people coming and going for whatever reasons.
Aboriginal traditions are strong on the ground, including bunyips, spirit dogs and other ghostly figures. There are lots of bushranger connections, a few gold rushes and lots of floods, including one Australia’s worst natural disasters, the big flood of 1852 that swept the town away and killed more than 70 people.
The shearing song ‘Lazy Harry’s’, in its numerous versions, is well known, aided by a thumping melody. ‘Flash Jack’ the shearer comes from Gundagai and, of course, Jack O’Hagan’s composition ‘On the Road to Gundagai’ has remained a hit ever since it was composed in the 1920s.
Most familiar, of course, will be the famous dog and whatever it did on or in the tuckerbox at Gundagai, as the bullocky who tells the dismal tale put it:
I can forgive the blinking team I can forgive the rain,
I can forgive the dark and cold and go through it again,
I can forgive my rotten luck but hang me till I die,
I can’t forgive that bloody dog nine miles from Gundagai.
Less well-known is the legend of the ‘Gundagai cat’ that links the town back to the earliest days of convictism …
The Golden Grove was one of the First Fleet store ships, sometimescalled ‘the Noah’s Ark of Australia’ due to the number and variety of livestock she conveyed to Botany Bay, including ‘one bull, four cows, and one calf; one stallion, three mares, and three colts; one ram, eleven sheep, and eight lambs; one billy-goat, four nanny goats, and three kids; one boar, five sows, and a litter of 14 pigs; nine different sorts of dogs; and seven cats’.
In the 1870s it was said that one of these First Fleet cats was still living in at the amazing age of one hundred years at the New South Wales town of Gundagai. The centenarian moggy was so aloof she would only eat pork sausages. By the 1920s, the feline was said to have reached the even more advanced age of 190 years. This assertion was published in at least one English newspaper and picked up and reprinted in the American and Australian press. While the American’s swallowed the tale whole, the factoid was properly dismissed by Gundagai locals as what in those days was called a ‘mare’s nest’, meaning a grossly inaccurate claim, what we might today call an urban legend or just fake news.
What a town! Have you got a better contender for Australia's folklore capital?